By Cian Molloy - 24 June, 2018
Young men who show the promise of a vocation to the priesthood need more encouragement than ever.
This comment was made by Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare & Leighlin, at a Mass celebrating the national pilgrimage of St Joseph’s Young Priest Society to Knock.
The society, founded by Galway-born Olivia Mary Taaffe at the end of the 19th century, provides prayerful and practical support to Irish seminarians. It has branches in many parishes across Ireland. Coincidentally, the maiden name of Bishop Nulty’s maternal grandmother was Taaffe. Her remains are buried in the same graveyard as Olivia Mary in Ballapousta, near Ardee, in Co Louth.
Noting that Ireland has “culturally changed hugely in recent decades” and “seismically in the past couple of years”, Bishop Nulty said: “A young man who shows the promise of a vocation needs more encouragement than ever. Discerning a vocation is now firmly counter cultural. No longer is it simply a matter of leaving it to a seminary; there has to be proper accompaniment every step of the way. In Ireland, we who love our faith need to have the courage to create a new culture of vocations.”
Referring to the book Helping Priests Become Inviters by Fr Thomas Richter, Bishop Nulty said: “The main reason many young people do not consider the priesthood is because they have never been personally asked. [Fr Richter] estimates that 80 per cent of those ordained were personally invited to enter seminary by a priest; he suggests only 30 per cent of priests invite young men to consider the priesthood. And that is in the United States. I would say it is a lot less in Ireland and today, 2018, two months before a Papal visit, that need was never greater.
“So how do we encourage priests and lay people to encourage vocations? Begin a conversation at parish level. Priestly vocations are everyone’s business, but if priests, deacons, parish pastoral workers, parish council members do not lead the conversation, then who will?
“Archbishop Charles Chaput [of Philadelphia] asked one time at a Diocesan Conference. ‘How many of you know the name of Mother Teresa’s parish priest when she was a child?’ What was his point? Mother Teresa didn’t become Mother Teresa, and later St Teresa, by herself. She had someone who preached the Word of God to her. None of us know who we are influencing, who we are prompting to drill deeper into God’s word, and the profound affect that preaching will have on our world.”
On behalf of his co-celebrants, which included Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam and Bishops John Kirby of Clonfert, John Fleming of Killala, Brendan Kelly of Galway, Phonsie Cullinan of Waterford & Lismore, and Ray Field, Auxiliary in Dublin, as well as Fr Seamus McEntee, national chaplain to Saint Joseph’s Young Priests Society, Bishop Nulty thanked the members of the society assembled in Our Lady’s Basilica.
“Today we have come on pilgrimage to Knock to speak to His mother and ask her to bless us with more vocations, but equally to look after our younger priests, and support them as they settle into ministry. Your society is aptly called Saint Joseph’s Young Priests Society. I thank you for the enormous support you continue to give our seminarian community, but I also ask you to keep in your prayers the accompaniment of our younger priests in our parishes and communities, who need our support and encouragement as much as those in seminary formation.”
The Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin said it was a good thing that the Church is no longer the dominant force it once was in Irish life. “A priest today works collaboratively with lay women and men, young and old at the coalface of parish life. A letter I received recently at Bishop’s House in Carlow emphasised for me how much a local priest, who will soon move parish, is both loved and treasured. I quote briefly from the letter, ‘He is one of us. He is, yes, a priest, but he is part of our family. His role may be religious, but he, as a person, is blood to us’. What a powerful endorsement of priesthood, written by a 34-year-old parishioner, and food for thought for all of us!”